Arts & Culture

Bonding Over Shared Languages in DU

21st February marks International Mother Language Day. DU as a multilingual space has a lot of mother tongue stories to tell. 

Mother Tongue Day 

Every year 21st February marks the International Mother Language Day. The idea to celebrate this day was initiated by Bangladesh, after a long period of struggle. In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) presented this topic at the UN General Conference, and since after the year 2000, this day has been observed as International Mother Language Day across the globe.

Image Credits: Newsgram 

Mother tongue of every individual has a sense of belongingness which further builds the identity. Nelson Mandela’s famous remark on mother tongue captures the essence of how one’s own language can directly touch their heart:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Cultural Hybridity

Thus, the importance of mother tongue stems directly from a shared essence that one feels. This essence becomes more concrete when one is able to talk in their mother tongue despite the dominant language in that region being different. These ideas get more apparent in the University of Delhi (DU) which is a mini-world in its own right.

A lot of students with varying ethnicities and backgrounds study together at one place. This creates a beautiful grid of languages that students speak in their native places. This article talks about some of the mother tongue experiences of students across DU. While some of them are beautiful memories, other testimonies reflect pertinent issues.

I would say that coming from West Bengal, I definitely received a cultural shock when I came to DU because most people are Hindi speakers and have a culture and lifestyle very different from Bengal. I used to be uncomfortable speaking Hindi so I always spoke in English. However, when I started growing closer to my classmates and my roommate, they made me feel comfortable and I could speak my heart out without feeling intimidated because I’m not a native Hindi speaker. Even though I encountered several occasions of Hindi imposition, most people I’m close with gave me space to freely express myself and in that sense, I would definitely say DU is a free place.

Sambrita Bhattacharya, 2nd year student, DU
Homi J Bhabha. Image Credits: Wikipedia

DU expects students to have a certain amount of knowledge in Hindi, upto 8th standard of learning. This need arises out of the daily conversations in the region of Delhi that mostly happen in Hindi. However, this kind of academic expectation doesn’t really hinder the cultural exchanges between two students who may belong to the same or different language zones.

What then becomes visible in DU is a kind of “Cultural Hybridity” as was proposed by Homi J Bhabha. Bhabha suggested that cultures don’t exist as fixed, rigid identities. Rather they interact and become malleable entities. While his ideas were about British dominance of the notion that the West was superior to the East, we see its application in DU as well. The kind of cultural mix that originates from the language mix is a manifestation of this hybridity.

For me, being in DU, I could find people from different states especially in my class who spoke different languages. But that didn’t affect me in any negative manner. I had classmates who knew Hindi and we talked to them in either English or Hindi. However, since I am a Malayali I spoke in my mother tongue with Malayali people. It’s honestly beautiful to find people who speak a similar language as your own.

Aparna, 2nd year student, DU
Image Credits: Meme Arsenal 

Beautiful Memories Built Through a Mother Tongue

The structural part of the curriculum in DU does reflect less diversity in terms of accommodation of mother languages. However, students expressed how despite this divide, they made beautiful memories with their friends, bonding over their own tongue. The confusion of not being able to understand someone else’s language. That part of the conversation when you teach your classmates a word or two from your native language. The cord that strikes between someone who eats Rosogullla and Sarso ka Saag or Dhokla and Daal-baati-choorma is a scintillating one. 

When I came to Delhi, I felt out of place and belonged at the same time. In those initial months of confusion, the people I found a home in were those who spoke Malayalam. I have had experiences where I randomly went and had conversations with a person just because I heard something or the other in my language.  It is like an established rule everywhere, that whoever knew Malayalam were part of this big family whether it be a random auto driver who managed to churn out some Malayalam they knew or a fluent speaker like myself

Devika, 2nd year student, DU 

The memory part becomes even more special given how your cuisines, costume etc. all mingle with your native tongue and create a unique identity of yours. While roaming in the streets of Dilli or otherwise, you may cross over someone who speaks your own tongue. Someone who may even utter one word from your tongue and that alone is enough to give you homely vibes.  


The dichotomy between mother tongue and second or third language (English/Hindi) can work in many directions. Some students in DU tend to lose grasp over their mother tongue, as they said to DU Beat. However, cultural exchange programmes, meeting new people from different colleges but a similar tongue, the role of native language magazines in college etc. all become a way to ensure that DU stays a multilingual space. The bonds that are formed over shared tongues are long-lasting ones. 

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Featured Image Credits: DU Beat Archives 

Navneet Kaur